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Pinellas schools consider cuts in high school sports

LARGO — Pinellas school officials will consider cuts in high school sports programs as they address the district's budget crisis, superintendent Julie Janssen said Tuesday.

Janssen told the St. Petersburg Times' editorial board that the district is assessing how many students participate in athletics, the cost and participation levels for each sport and which programs are duplicated by local clubs.

"We're looking at some of the sports that our community groups offer anyway," she said. Questioned about which sports might be affected, she answered: "We're going to look at all of them."

In a broad discussion that mostly centered on the budget situation, Janssen also discussed several other areas where she expected the district to search for cuts. She said she expected to cut salary costs through the use of furloughs, probably by reducing the number of days teachers come to school before the school year begins and after it ends.

She said the district is in the process of assembling an inventory of its surplus property with the idea that many parcels would be sold when the market improves.

In addition, she said the district is:

• Ordering every school and every department to cut at least one position.

• Studying ways to cut administrative costs.

• Cutting the size of the supervisory staff in the district's sprawling busing operation.

• Not inclined to rehire many or any employees who retire under the Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, and want to return to the district.

"We certainly will not be employing them under the terms we had before," Janssen said of those employees. She added that the district's first priority would be to find spots for employees displaced by cutbacks such as closed schools.

"I've made it clear to my entire staff that everything's on the table until we get through all of the cuts," she said.

In a comment related to busing, Janssen said the district's goal is to change middle and high school start times next year if it can further reduce its busing load. Much will depend on how many students elect to remain grandfathered in their current schools rather than move to their new zoned schools, she said.

She said it appears the district might be able to move start times by 15 minutes next year, making the 7:05 a.m. start time for high schools slightly later and the 9:38 a.m. start time for middle schools a bit earlier.

Of all the ideas Janssen discussed Tuesday, cutting athletic programs could prove the most controversial.

Nick Grasso, the district official in charge of extracurricular programs, said he is convening a meeting this week of representatives from every high school: assistant principals, athletic directors and coaches. The group will assess the programs and try to make some equitable recommendations, he said.

"Nothing should be predetermined going into this meeting," Grasso said. "We're looking at ways to possibly reduce the cost of athletics without compromising the integrity of our athletic programs. … I'm looking forward to a spirited process."

Pinellas schools consider cuts in high school sports 01/27/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 5:28pm]
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